Charleston County, SC

Summary

The Charleston County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) was awarded $2.25 million from the Safety and Justice Challenge to invest in a mix of strategies that have been safely reducing the average daily jail population and helping to improve the local criminal justice
system. The CJCC has supported efforts to enhance police practices; increased alternatives to jail for people dealing with mental illness, substance use disorders, and homelessness; started automated court reminders; launched a risk-based pretrial management system; provided indigence screening for the first-ever assignment of public defenders in bond court; expedited earlier assignment of prosecution and defense counsel; reduced the time to receive discovery; and reduced time to disposition. Through all of the above, the CJCC has been improving the system’s use of data for continuous improvement and accountability.

While the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office is the Safety and Justice Challenge lead agency for administrative purposes, the initiative is led by the CJCC. The mission of the CJCC is to assist in making sustainable, data-driven improvements to Charleston County’s criminal justice system and thereby improve public safety and community well-being. A prior iteration of the CJCC led a number of multi-stakeholder criminal justice reform efforts, including the institution of case processing improvements that reduced average jail stays of probation and parole violators, the creation of a Jail Liaison position to facilitate lawyer-inmate communications, and a $100 million detention center expansion to alleviate severe overcrowding. In 2015, the CJCC reignited and expanded its efforts to continue improving the local criminal justice system in Charleston County with the support of the SJC.

  • The locally held jail population (excluding non-local detainees on Federal, Immigration, and/or out-of-county uses of jail) is mostly pretrial; approximately 90%-98% of detainees are awaiting trial. The ability to pay a financial bond amount often determines whom is released and whom is held pretrial. Nearly all (approximately 96-98%) financial bonds cost more than $1,000.
  • A first-of-its-kind baseline pretrial outcome study to assess the effectiveness of status quo pretrial practices found that 85% of releases on financial bonds compared to 53% releases on personal recognizance returned to jail (new arrests) while awaiting the resolution of their cases. It also found the returns to jail were driven by 46% of the individuals released, often returning to jail more than once in the pretrial period. In other words, the status quo practices from the baseline period resulted in ineffective pretrial outcomes that must be improved.
  • As of 2017, 28% of Charleston County’s general population was African American while 73% of the local jail population was African American, a relative rate index of 7.65 African Americans to 1 white individual incarcerated. While the amount of disproportionality in the system overall has reduced since 2014, the highest amounts continue to be at system entry. After entry into the system, the amount of disproportionality reduces significantly through bond setting and disposition. Analysis found differing results among men and women, as well as reasons to further expand REDD analysis as more data becomes available (e.g., sentencing, crime severity, etc.).
  • The CJCC conducted an extensive review of relevant literature about racial and ethnic disproportionality and/or disparity (REDD) in the criminal justice system and best practices for reducing REDD to help ground the work in research moving forward. Researchers attribute many of the differences in justice system involvement to elevated risk factors among people of color, who trail white individuals on measures of objective well-being that support positive life outcomes locally and nationally, such as income, health, and education. In addition to the financial costs, there are costs to public safety, legal and political costs, civil consequences, and intergenerational effects. Recognizing the serious consequences for individuals, families, communities, and society as a whole, the CJCC is committed to further reducing REDD.
  • On average, the number of individuals with three or more bookings in the past two years that cycled through the jail each month in 2017 was 42% less than in 2014, down to 175 individuals per month in 2017 from a high of 302 in 2014.
  • While the number of repeat visitors cycling through the jail has reduced with the introduction of increased alternatives to detention at the front-end, there is more work to be done at decision points later in the system, from post-booking through reentry from incarceration, particularly for individuals most prone to reoffending.
  • To continue refining its existing efforts and improve upon key challenges in pretrial justice, repeat offending, and racial and ethnic disproportionality and disparity, the county will implement key strategies including:
    • Building a robust data warehouse combining data from across the criminal justice system to provide ongoing analysis and identification of areas for improvement.
    • Supporting law enforcement’s use of jail alternatives such as citation-and-release. This includes providing a risk-based decision tool to support law enforcement as it applies discretion at the point of arrest for low-level, non-violent offenses that were driving jail use and high rates of racial disproportionality (simple possession of marijuana, open container, misdemeanor shoplifting, trespassing, and public intoxication).
    • Collaborating with multiple local agencies to reopen the Tri-County Crisis Stabilization Center with a triage service for law enforcement. The center is providing an immediate connection to treatment for those living with mental illness, substance use disorders, and/or homelessness rather than placing them in jail or costly emergency departments.
    • Completing a Sequential Intercept Mapping process and more extensive analysis of repeat offending patterns. The results will help Charleston’s community prioritize important gaps in recidivism reduction at later stages in the justice system, and advance needed reforms in these areas.
    • Providing text message reminders to defendants with upcoming court appearances to help improve the use of valuable court time and reduce bench warrants for missing court.
    • Implementing pretrial service reports to inform bond-setting judges and provide better information regarding the risks to safety and/or failing to appear.
    • Accelerating key aspects of case processing to help reduce the time it takes to bring cases to justice. This includes implementing cost-effective technology for more efficient delivery of discovery; improving the timeliness of assignment of prosecution and defense counsel; implementing the first-ever initiation of public defender representation in Central Bond Court for poor defendants that qualify; and providing personnel to support the Administrative Order and State v. Langford, effectively placing docket management under the court.
    • Implementing a dedicated REDD strategy that is combining the lessons learned from CJCC’s REDD analysis, relevant literature, and increased community engagement to further reduce REDD.
    • Advancing community engagement throughout the improvement process with a dedicated effort to ensure the CJCC’s efforts are responsive to community concerns, and focused on achieving positive impacts for the community it serves.
    • Conducting extensive analysis and issuing several comprehensive reports to inform and update the community about its criminal justice system, progress to-date, and areas for further improvement as part of the CJCC’s commitment to accountability and transparency.
  • Through strong collaboration, leadership, and increasing data capacity, the local jail population has been reduced by 18%, from 1,111 individuals at the start of Charleston’s Challenge efforts to 909, as of October 2018. By May 2019, Charleston County aims to achieve the full 25% reduction the CJCC set out to accomplish.
  • Supported with an additional $2.467 million from the Safety and Justice Challenge, Charleston County aims to continue refining its existing efforts and improve upon key challenges in pretrial justice, repeat offending, and racial and ethnic disproportionality and disparity.
  • More information about the work underway in Charleston County can be found at cjcc.charlestoncounty.org

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